On the July 31 edition of NPR's Morning Edition, reporting on Navy Adm. Michael Mullen's upcoming Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman asserted that Mullen "will not be calling for, like the Democrats are, for any precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops" from Iraq. Bowman's assertion echoes characterizations by President Bush and other Republicans of proposals for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq. While Bowman did not specify which or how many "Democrats" support a "precipitous withdrawal" from Iraq, there are several plans supported by Democrats -- including at least one supported by some Republicans -- that call for a "gradual" withdrawal or a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq, with some troops remaining in Iraq for specified missions after the withdrawal of most combat troops. Moreover, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), co-sponsor of a leading proposal dealing with troop levels in Iraq, have both specifically stated that Democrats are not calling for a precipitous withdrawal.
Bowman reported that Mullen "was never a fan of this so-called 'surge' in troops ... [b]ut once he learned that there would be more State Department reconstruction teams, pressure on the Maliki government to reconcile, he came on board." Bowman added that Mullen "will likely bow to General [David] Petraeus, who, of course, is going to report in September on the progress of the surge, and he will not be calling for, like the Democrats are, for any precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops. He'll, I think, want to see this surge play itself out."
Bowman did not give any indication that the term "precipitous withdrawal" is a term used by Republicans to attack Iraq withdrawal plans, nor did he note that Democrats specifically reject that characterization. President Bush used the term, or a variation of it, three times in a July 12 press conference:
BUSH: All these extremist groups would be emboldened by a precipitous American withdrawal, which would confuse and frighten friends and allies in the region.
BUSH: First of all, they share my concern that a precipitous withdrawal would embolden al Qaeda. And they also understand that we can't let al Qaeda gain safe haven inside of Iraq. I appreciate their calls and I appreciate their desire to work with the White House to be in a position where we can sustain a presence in Iraq.
BUSH: And, first of all, I can fully understand why people are tired of the war. The question they have is, can we win it? And of course I'm concerned about whether or not the American people are in this fight. I believe, however, that when they really think about the consequences if we were to precipitously withdraw, they begin to say to themselves, maybe we ought to win this, maybe we ought to have a stable Iraq.
Bush has used the term to describe proposals for withdrawal from Iraq in other instances, as have White House spokesman Tony Fratto and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). In addition, a document on House Minority Leader John Boehner's (R-OH) website asks, "What would Iraq look like if the Democrats' plan for precipitous withdrawal were implemented?"
In addition, during a July 9 press conference discussing the most recent Senate debate on Iraq war policy, Reid asserted that a withdrawal bill he co-sponsored "called for American troops to remain in Iraq to do counterterrorism, to protect our assets in Iraq, to train the Iraqis" and that "[t]here's estimates that that would still leave tens of thousands of troops in Iraq." Reid then added: "No one is calling for a precipitous withdrawal in Iraq." Similarly, during a July 10 press conference, Jack Reed stated: "I think all of these comments about pulling out always seem to be preceded by the adjective 'precipitous withdrawal.' No one is advocating a precipitous withdrawal. In fact, our advocation is for something quite different -- a phased redeployment of forces, change of missions that are specific, explicit, that can be conducted by American military forces."
According to dictionary definitions, when not being used in the sense of describing something that is physically steep, "precipitous" is used synonymously with "precipitate" to mean, according to Merriam-Webster, "to bring about especially abruptly." As Media Matters for America recently noted, a number of Iraq withdrawal plans offered by Democrats (and supported by some Republicans), by contrast, call for a "gradual" or "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq but also require troops to remain for limited missions. For example, the Senate recently debated an amendment to the defense authorization bill -- offered by Reed and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) -- that calls for a "reduction" of U.S forces in Iraq but also stipulates that the United States maintain a "limited presence" of troops there to protect U.S. and coalition infrastructure, train Iraqi security forces, and conduct counterterrorism operations. A motion to cut off a filibuster of the Levin-Reed proposal garnered 52 votes on July 18, including those of Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Chuck Hagel (NE), Gordon Smith (OR), and Olympia Snowe (ME). Moreover, Iraq withdrawal plans from two leading Democratic presidential contenders, Sens. Barack Obama (IL) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY), contain provisions that call for a "retention" and a "limited presence" of U.S. forces, respectively, for counterterrorism operations, force and infrastructure protection, and training Iraqi security forces. Obama's plan called for the redeployment of troops to occur in "a gradual manner" while Clinton's stipulated that the withdrawal should be a "phased redeployment."
From the July 31 edition of NPR's Morning Edition:
STEVE INSKEEP (host): It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep. We get a glimpse today at the way the nation's next top military officer would face two tough jobs. One is to advise President Bush in the midst of a lengthening war. The other is to make sure a strained U.S. military stays ready to fight that war and the next one. Admiral Mike Mullen is the president's nominee to do those jobs. Today a Senate committee is holding a confirmation hearing for him, and some of Mullen's prepared testimony has already been spread around.
NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is following this story, and, Tom, if you're the president's nominee for this top job and you're facing a Democratic Congress that's skeptical of the war, what do you say about the war in Iraq?
BOWMAN: Well, first of all, Mike Mullen was never a fan of this so-called "surge" in troops. He said this is more than just a military problem in Iraq. But once he learned that there would be more State Department reconstruction teams, pressure on the Maliki government to reconcile, he came on board. He will likely bow to General Petraeus, who, of course, is going to report in September on the progress of the surge, and he will not be calling for, like the Democrats are, for any precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops. He'll, I think, want to see this surge play itself out.
INSKEEP: So you have somebody here who is not entirely in sync with previous administration policies but is not going to speak forcefully against them at this time.
BOWMAN: Exactly, that's right.